Thursday, May 8, 2014

Biography: Captain Henry Wirz, Commander at Andersonville Prison

Biography: Captain Henry Wirz from the book The Good the Bad and the Mad, Weird People in American History, E. Randall Floyd, Harbor House Book Augusta, Georgia, 1999.

Captain Henry Wirz was the only confederate officer executed for war crimes.  He was the commander at Andersonville Prison; and whether someone in the wrong place at the wrong time, or complicit in his crimes is still open for debate. 
Wirz immigrated to Kentucky from Switzerland and Germany.  He was wounded in the right arm at Seven Pines, and his arm caused him pain and was mostly useless up until the time he died.  His wound made it so he could not perform on the battlefield, and he was assigned to prisoner of war camps. 
Andersonville was also known as Camp Sumter.  It was built to house 10,000 prisoners.  It existed for only fourteen months, and housed 45,000 total prisoners during that time, of whom 13,000 died.  The maximum at any one time was 32 thousand. 
Andersonville was a place where men lived in filth, the only supply of water was a creek running through camp, which was also the septic system.  There was not enough provisions for the number of men, and consequently many starved.  Shelter was also difficult to come by.  There were not sufficient tents, and those available were torn and worn.  Consequently they were subject to both sun and rain.
He was arrested after the war.  The general of prisons, General Winder, died of a heart attack, and was not available to be tried.  He was charged with two crimes, one of negligence—that he allowed conditions to be such that it was injurious to soldiers of war.  The other charge was that he murdered thirteen prisoners. 
The trial included one shocking story after another.  Prisoners had gone without food for days.  The food served was uncooked, and filled with bugs.  Sanitation of the camp was such that the stench could be smelled for miles. 
He was sentenced to hang.  He maintained his innocence.  He was killed November 10, 1865.

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